How to Grow and Care for Coral Plant (Jatropha multifida)

Spread the love

Coral plant is a species of flowering plant in the Jatropha genus of shrubs, which is native to Mexico and the Caribbean. All parts of the plant, including the milky sap, are poisonous if ingested. The fruits are sweet tasting, but again toxic and dangerous.

This perennial has been introduced to parts of South America, China, Asia, India, and Africa. Coral plant is also known as Guatemala Rhubarb or coral bush. It is grown as an ornamental plant with brilliant, vibrant blooms and huge leaves.

Jatropha multifida is semi-evergreen and slightly succulent. Usually, it grows as a shrub, but sometimes it grows as a small tree with a loose spread.


Jatropha multifida was introduced as a garden plant hundreds of years ago, where, in the tropics, it was grown as a flowering hedge. 

Plant Facts

Scientific nameJatropha multifida
Common namesPhysic nut, coral plant, coral bush
Height10 feet (3 m)
Width10 feet (3 m)
USDA Plant Hardiness ZoneZones 10 to 12
Native toCaribbean, Mexico, Southern America
Blooming seasonAll year long, especially in heat
Flower colorsred
Plant specific featuresHarvested for oil, all parts toxic if ingested

How to Plant and Grow a Coral Plant 

Known equally well as Guatemala rhubarb or physic nut, the coral plant is native to dry, arid lands. Sometimes, it is found where it has self-grown in grasslands and scrub. 

Where to Plant

For best flowering, plant the coral plant in full sun. It’s a gorgeous plant, but unfortunately, unless you are in USDA zones 10 to 12, this tropical plant can only be grown as a tender annual. Coral plant is extremely tender, temperatures below 4 °C will kill it.

When to Plant

Planting a Jatropha multifida is best done in late Spring or mid-Summer. It really depends on the temperatures, and especially takes care of a wind chill factor. Mature plants can withstand a little more cold than a new plant. 

 If you are growing in a container, late Spring is also the best time to repot into larger pots. 

Coral Plant Care and Maintenance


The single most important growing requirement for a coral plant is drainage. Soil must have excellent drainage properties, the shrub’s roots will rot if they are left in damp or wet soil.  

For best results, the soil should also be moderately fertile. If you are planting in a container, make sure it is a large one and fill it with gritty compost designed for houseplants. 


Once coral plant has developed a sound root system, it has moderate tolerance to drought conditions. However, for the best flowering, it should be planted in full sun and watered regularly at the base. Given the ideal growing conditions, this shrub will flower all year long. 

If coral plant is planted as a container-grown specimen, reduce the water in the winter. 

When watering a coral plant, avoid splashing the foliage with mud or water. If its leaves stay wet, it is susceptible to root or leaf rot.


Jatropha multifida will appreciate an annual feed in the Spring. Correct use and application of fertilizer in the Spring will encourage new season growth, and increase the production of flowers. Use a slow-release and balanced fertilizer for plants growing in the soil. 

If you are growing this shrub in a container, then you should use a houseplant feed every three weeks. The product should be diluted in water and used at half-strength.


Coral plant can’t have too much sunshine! Plant in as sunny a position as possible for best results.

If your coral plant is being grown indoors as a house or conservatory potted plant, try to take it outdoors for the summer months. This will enable the shrub to get more direct sunlight, which is perfect. 

If it loses some of its foliage after being taken outside, or brought back in before the cold weather arrives, this is normal. The plant will produce new leaves that are adapted to its new growing environment.

Pruning and Repotting

Deadheading coral plant will encourage flowering to continue, possibly throughout the year. This will also keep the plant looking good and tidy. Sometimes a coral plant becomes straggly, and pruning will keep the plant in good shape.

As with all shrubs, it is good to remove any dead or diseased wood as soon as it is noticed. If any branches become damaged, they should be cut back to healthy wood.

A container-grown plant can be limited in growth by releasing it from the pot and trimming the roots. It can be repotted in the new growing medium, but not put into a bigger pot. 


The easiest and most effective way to propagate coral plant or Guatemala rhubarb is to take cuttings, but coral plant does tend to self-seed as well. 

Look for little seedlings around the base of the plant, and remove them when they are growing healthily. They can then be transplanted.

Pests and diseases

The most effective method of pest control is to remove any pests such as aphids by hand. 

Change the soil if you are growing in a container, and spray water on the soil to remove any eggs which may be growing. Take the plant outside as soon as the sunny days arrive, this is a good way to get rid of pests.

 Only if absolutely necessary, spray the leaves of the plant (and the undersides only) with an organic horticultural pesticide. The coral plant does not like excessive humidity, so avoid watering if at all possible.

Temperature and Humidity

As already discussed, this is a tender plant. Grown in cooler zones, it can only be treated as an annual, or used for a pot plant in a light and sunny room.

Because coral plant does not light excessive humidity, it is important not to position a coral plant in a cold room. 

Other Uses for Coral Plant

Traditionally, the stems of coral plant were used in basket-making by the Mexicans. Parts of the plant were also used as a component for dying and tanning purposes. 

Species of Jatropha are used for fuel, food, and medicine. Parts of coral plants are toxic if ingested.

Types of Coral Plant You Can Grow

There are some different coral plants you can grow; 

This is a weeping plant known as coral plant that is in a different genus. It bears striking, red, long tubular-shaped flowers. This is also known as a firecracker plant because of its cascades of red flowers.

The genus Jatropha includes approximately 170 species, but not all are known as coral plant.


This evergreen or semi-deciduous shrub is a perennial shrub or tree. It has a slightly succulent appearance and a loose, spreading form. 

In its native habitat, it can grow up to 20 feet (6 m). However, in garden cultivation, it is unlikely to grow more than 10 feet (3 m), and considerably smaller if grown in a container.

With its striking red flower heads, and attractive green foliage, this plant is given by spouses to each other as a token of their reciprocal love and gratitude.

*image by simonapavan/depositphotos

Spread the love